Stealth Games as a Genre

Posted by Conor Murphy on March 10, 2010 in Editorial -- Share:

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Do you remember playing hide and go seek? This classic childhood game has a number of variations, but in the end it hinges on one thing – not getting caught. A couple weeks ago we discussed casual game genres and suggested two: Stealth games and Trivia games.

We think of Stealth games in a similar vein – gameplay that hinges on the player avoiding detection and using concealment to prevent being caught en route to completing an objective. Games in this genre employ mechanics such as hiding in shadows, utilizing disguises, deactivating devices, and silent movement.

Games of stealth have been around since the early 1980s with such titles as Castle Wolfenstein (1981) and Metal Gear (1987) paving the way for future mainstream titles such as Splinter Cell (2002) and Assassin’s Creed (2007).

While each of these titles clearly belongs in the core gaming world due to the violent nature of the gameplay (when not sneaking around, the characters are fighting enemies with an array of weapons), it isn’t hard to see how the stealth aspect of this genre could be incorporated into casual gameplay.

A casual game adaptation of a stealth game would focus on the clandestine elements such as picking locks, evading guards, deactivating security systems, sneaking through buildings, and deciphering codes.

Best of all, espionage and spying is in no way limited to one gender. Clearly men or women can excel at such exploits.

Let’s take a look at a brief (very brief) history of the Stealth game genre so we can better understand where we’ve come from and the games that helped define this genre.

Castle Wolfenstein

Castle Wolfenstein

Castle Wolfenstein was released in 1981 by Muse Software. The game is set in a Nazi infested castle during World War II. The player’s main objective is to find the secret war plans hidden somewhere in the castle and escape alive.

To find the war plans, the player must sneak past guards and open a collection of chests located throughout the castle. To successfully sneak past the Nazi guards, the player must either avoid being seen or leverage disguise by donning a Nazi soldier uniform. If detected, the player can resort to force to eliminate guards.

While the graphics might be laughable by today’s standards, Castle Wolfenstein spawned several successful sequels and helped to establish stealth as a viable game mechanic.

Metal Gear

Metal Gear

Metal Gear was released in 1987 by Konami for the MSX2 computer standard in Japan and parts of Europe. An altered version of the game was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System later that year.

Metal Gear gameplay revolves around a special forces operative codenamed Solid Snake. Snake takes on a solo mission into the fortified state of Outer Heaven to destroy Metal Gear, a bipedal walking tank.

Not only did Metal Gear help to take the Stealth game genre to another level, it came complete with a collection of equipment could use to assist him in his quest (shown below). Notice how many of the items shown are not weapons, but actual equipment Solid Snake can use to assist him in his movements.

Metal Gear Equipment

Splinter Cell

Splinter Cell

Splinter Cell was released in 2002 by Ubisoft Montreal. The series is endorsed by author Tom Clancy and parallels the activities of American NSA Black Operation, “Black Ops”, agent Sam Fisher.

The stealth aspects of the gameplay focus heavily on light and darkness. The player is encouraged to take advantage of shadows for concealment whenever possible. The game displays a “light meter” that measures how visible the player character is to enemies, and night vision and thermal vision goggles to help the player navigate in darkness. The player can actually shoot out light sources to decrease the chances of being seen.

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's Creed

Assassin’s Creed was released in 2007 by Ubisoft and followed by Assassin’s Creed 2 in 2009.

The game puts the player in control of Altaïr, an assassin who is tasked with gathering intelligence through eavesdropping, interrogation, pickpocketing and other tasks for informers and fellow assassins. This information is used to track down and assassinate targets. During this, the player may take part in any number of side objectives including climbing tall towers to map out the city, and saving common citizens who are being threatened or harassed by city guards.

Of course, Assassin’s Creed takes art and movement to a whole new level compared to the other three games, but we shouldn’t ignore the foundation those early games laid for such titles.

Casual Stealth Gaming

As I pointed out at the beginning, classic Stealth games have been a mash up of stealth and traditional core gaming (fighting, shooting, and other violent activities). I believe, however, that the stealth game mechanics can stand alone. A great casual game could focus on the clandestine elements such as hiding in shadows, evading guards, and disabling security systems (hello, puzzles!).

Written by

Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+